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Oct. 19, 2022

BONUS: Genie+ Price Increases, TikTok, and Secret Bars

BONUS: Genie+ Price Increases, TikTok, and Secret Bars

The price of Genie+ will increase at both Disneyland and the Walt Disney World resort. Plus, we review a listener message about TikTok and takeaways from the new secret bars at Hush haunted attraction.

The price of Genie+ will increase at both Disneyland and the Walt Disney World resort. Plus, we review a listener message about TikTok and takeaways from the new secret bars at Hush haunted attraction.


Philip Hernandez: OK, from our studios, this week in Detroit and Tampa, I'm Philip, this is Green Tagged Theme Park in 30, and I'm joined by my co-host, Scott Swenson of Scott Swenson Creative Development.

Scott Swenson: Hello, hello. Back in Tampa. Once again, at least for a while, and ready to go for the show, we got a lot to talk about.

Philip Hernandez: Well, we're starting off here with a little update in the labor crisis. There's something that might be some good news. The DHS announced 65,000 additional work visas for 2023. On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security and Labor announced an increase in the number of H2B Visas issued to temporary foreign workers b an additional 64,000 and change. With this increase, employers within the tourism industry that usually face staffing shortages throughout the summer will be able to leverage this increase to their benefit. Just for clarity, this visa program permits employers to temporarily hire noncitizens to perform non-agricultural labor or services in the US. It must be temporary in nature, such as a one-time occurrence, seasonal, or intermittent need. The employers seeking the workers must take a series of steps to test the US labor market, et cetera, et cetera. But I don't personally know any people, any operators, personally that use the visa program, but I know that it is utilized by some of the larger chains quite extensively. I think that basically doubling the amount that is going to be prepared for 2023 is going to be good to help kind of ease a lot of the big infrastructure cases that need seasonal staffing.

Scott Swenson: Yeah, this is nothing new. I just want to point out that this has been going on for quite some time. Back in my days at Busch Gardens, Busch Gardens and SeaWorld used this quite a bit. They, in fact, not only use this but also invested in either the rental or purchase of housing and transportation for all of these folks. It was truly a saving grace during some of the previous staffing challenges. Now that we are in, as we've talked about multiple times on the show, an ongoing staffing reassessment, I don't even want to call it a challenge because I don't think it's something that's just going to go away.

Philip Hernandez: It's not going away. I don't think so, yeah.

Scott Swenson: I think we're just going to kind of reimagine how we deal with staffing, and I think this is certainly one of the tools in the toolbox, and I like it a lot. I just got back from the TEA State in Las Vegas, and one of the topics of discussion, of course, was staffing from pretty much everybody. I found it interesting that staffing isn't just an HR issue now. Staffing is one of those things, it was discussed that everybody has to take into consideration what staffing means. That includes the marketing team, as to setting hours. That includes the PR team on setting expectations as to what's going to be open and what's not. 

My favorite, however, was the topic of designing so that we need fewer people. Designing rides, safety equipment, and guest experiences that require a smaller staff, or a more efficient use of staff. So that you can make sure that everything in your park is open. I think that this, obviously. is a much more boots-on-the-ground approach. and I don't think there's anything wrong with it. I think we need to keep all of them in mind because. like I said, I don't the staffing thing is going away but. I'm glad to see that there's a little bit of short-term help by getting some additional temporary work visas. I think that's great.

Philip Hernandez: OK let's move over to Disney. Disney is back in the news because, in a move that should be no surprise to anybody, Disney Genie+ prices have increased. Oh, shocker. Oh gosh, maybe we should get like a little sound effect whenever Disney prices go up.

Scott Swenson: Cha-Ching!

Philip Hernandez: There we go.

Scott Swenson: Cash register sound.

Philip Hernandez: So far, pricing for the Disney Genie+ service has been fixed at $15 per ticket per day at The Walt Disney World and $20 per ticket per day at Disneyland. However, starting on October 11th, Genie+ will have demand-based pricing at both resorts. At Disneyland, Disney Genie+ will cost $25 per ticket per day, if purchased in advance. That's the asterisk, if purchased in advance. Obviously, the day of prices would fluctuate even more. And Disney World will no longer sell Genie+ in advance at all. Genie+ prices will range at Disney World from $15 to $22 a day. So, basically, it went from $20-$25 and then $15-$22 on the sliding scale. It went from Disneyland in advance they're keeping that whole system, but Disney World is not doing any advance at all. The one kind of bone they threw people was that on the Disneyland side, the Webslingers ride is now going to be included in the Disney Genie+, because also as a reminder to everyone, Disney Genie+ does not include every ride at the properties. There are still those top-tier rides that are individually ticketed, even if you have the Disney Genie+.

Scott Swenson: Yeah, and more and more discussions are happening about the stuff that we've been talking about on the show, the multiple velvet rope concept or the additional add-on. Again, when I've been surrounded by theme park folk for the last five days, this was another topic that came up pretty regularly. It was interesting because it's kind of like, we've talked about the days of the E-ticket at Disney where you know you had the small entry fee and then a ticket fee for each of the experiences, and then it got away from that. Well, it's just coming back. Because, basically, what's happening is instead of giving an upcharge for independent elements, it's an upcharge for access to the elements. 

So, everyone has access to all of the elements for the minimal price, assuming that they plan their day accordingly and can get all of their reservations in, and this that, and the other thing. So it's interesting because it's pretty much going back to the A, B, C, D, E-ticket at Disney except instead of Space Mountain is an E-ticket, its access throughout the course of my stay or throughout the course of my day is more guaranteed, not guaranteed, but more guaranteed, or more likely to be guaranteed, based on where I sit with my Disney Genie+, you know?

It's interesting because it's a new skin on an old idea, that's the way I look at it. I don't know, maybe I'm oversimplifying it, but it just seems like the pendulum has swung from we're going to, I don't want to say nickel and dime, but a la carte things for you. Then it went to, "nope, everything included." Now it's going back to the a la carte concept, even outside of theme parks. I mean, even things like Area 15 in Las Vegas. In area 15 you've got multiple different attractions that once you get into the area, it's really cool, but then you can decide, "OK, I'll do this and I'll do this, and I'll pay for this, and I'll pay for this," as opposed to making it all one fee to be able to do everything. I think that I think that theme parks are doing the a la carte thing, but I think Disney is doing it instead of a la carte via attraction they're doing it a la carte via access. I think that kind of makes sense. It makes sense in my head, I don't know whether it makes sense to anybody else. But they're doing the upcharge so if you just want to come into the park, you can just come into the park. But if you want easier access to the rides, you really want to see, here's the additional fee that's going to cost.

Philip Hernandez: I think that we've talked about it, the pendulum concept quite a lot, and I think we're going to see that with this. Because I think that the key to this, there's two kinds of forces in this whole thing, I think the timing, because it happened through the pandemic, I think that was kind of the thing that really pushed the pendulum in that way, right? It was kind of a good merging of all the times. It's just like people saying supply chain and saying prices, you know? I don't think those are, again, the pendulum, that's not going to last forever, right? The other factor here, so one is timing, so I think that that's going to determine the pendulum swing back in that direction or when guests are going to no longer put up with it, really. It's the timing, they put up with it now because it's a pandemic and people have been all uprooted. 

The other factor I think that's going to play in is, Disney is, we talk about it, it's a brand of its own, but for smaller attractions, the experience still has to function as a regular experience if you're going to sell it as a regular experience. So, the velvet ropes and these extra all the whatever doodads, they can't make it so the rest of the experience doesn't function. Disney, as we talked about, is its own brand of crazy, and has a park. But, for instance, if you went to Disney, you walked in, but there was literally nothing to do and you couldn't get any of the rides, you just had to leave, that wouldn't function for the base ticket. There are some attractions that I've seen where, because of their additions, the base ticket is not functioning, right? If you're going to an experience, a linear experience, and you're having to wait three plus hours and you miss time or you miss whatever, and then you can't get into the attraction still in the line closes, which has happened this season. That's not functioning on the base level. So, I think the combination of these two things is definitely, I think, going to cause the pendulum to swing back, the timing plus degradation of the core experience. You can't market a thing that you can't sell, right?

Scott Swenson: You know, it's interesting because people are like, "well, I can't believe I have to pay extra to go to every attraction." Yet, I went to Walt Disney World the second year. It was open. And if we did three major attractions a day we were doing quite well, because the average wait time was two hours, Country Bear Jamboree, which as a small child, that was an A-lister attraction, the Haunted Mansion, always an A-lister attraction, certainly back in that in those days. So, if we did three, maybe four major attractions per day, we were doing quite well. As the velvet ropes got lifted, and it became more of a buffet versus a la carte, the reason that happened was because those queues weren't as long. The bloom was off the rose a little bit.

Now, you can look at COVID in one of two ways, COVID was either a disruptor or an accelerator, it either disrupted the way things were going or accelerated them to the next level. Because people are now like, "I just have to get out and I want to do everything, and I want to do everything now." So, it's interesting. I came to this conclusion not too long ago, because you've heard me say I don't want to go to Disney if I have to you be my own concierge and plan everything out the night before or get up at 5:15 in the morning and figure it all out so that I can actually have fun during the day. But, at the same time, I think back, and I go, "well, you know, we had limited experiences back then just based on crowds." So, maybe I've evolved too. I don't know. It's just interesting, it's a new way of creating a similar situation, if that makes any sense at all. The one thing that I will say that Disney does do when they do things like this is, they design for it.

Philip Hernandez: That's exactly what I was trying to get at. I think a lot of places will take the velvet rope concept but not design for it, and that causes their core product to become non-serviceable, right?

Scott Swenson: At the very least, if you design a separate queue for your velvet rope, your early access, your speed pass, whatever you want to call it, even for your tours, if you have private tours that you offer. If you have a separate queue, and this would be my recommendation only based on my experience and based on what many, many guests have told me over the years, make it so that the entrance to the VIP queue, to the Fast pass queue, whatever you want to call it is visible, but where it joins into the actual ride or attraction itself is hidden as much as possible. I mean, obviously, you're going to see somebody get in front of you, but if you see this entire line, just walk past you in a speed line and go straight up and get on a ride ahead of you. That just pisses people off who are in the ride, if they don't see that, they don't think about it, and it doesn't happen until the tail end. So, they don't get a chance to grouse about it for the 20-30 minutes that they're standing there watching these people zip by them. 

But design for it. You can't just say "oh, we're just going to let them go ahead and we're going to redo our chains, and you know blah blah blah blah blah." Plan for it and recognize that even if you do a limited number of these Genie+, Fastpass, frontline, whatever you want to call them, put that into your operational plan. So, you know that during the course of an hour you are going to have, I'm going to make up a number, 100 of these fast pass people, and base the number of these upcharges or upgrades that you're planning to sell on the number you can accommodate. Disney, obviously, is a different animal, they've got a much more complex system. But take the theory that they're using and apply it on your level.

Philip Hernandez: OK, Next up, Universal. So Universal Orlando has added two new dates for Halloween Horror Nights. This is kind of an old story and there's really not too much about this other than the nights they added were off nights. It's like a Monday and a Wednesday. So, I think you see this experiment of for Hell Weekend and the preceding week, creep into the regular week to see how far they can push it. I think that it will do well because of what we were just talking about. Express Pass is their version of what Disney is doing, right? You get Express Pass, you can go into each haunted house line once, but they also sell their annual passes for Horror Nights. So, essentially it's the same, I don't want a problem, but it's the same kind of situation where you have lines that are very long because you have the Express line, and I think that pushes it where the locals are going to get passes and have to come multiple nights, three or four nights really, to get the whole event if you're not going to pay for the upgrades. So, I think that because of all that, I do think that those extra nights are going to do well because there are plenty of people willing to get their get all the attractions checked off before the season ends, but just, seeing that. 

Scott Swenson: The other thing I like is they didn't open with these nights announced. So, what this suggests to me is they're doing well, and there's a reason to open these nights.

Philip Hernandez: Right, because who opens on Monday, right? Unless you really, really are doing well. You really would not open on Monday, you would open like a Wednesday maybe, but a Monday isn't really that. Those are odd days to open.

Scott Swenson: But from an operational standpoint, these are days that have been part of the plan from the get-go and just never made aware or never made available to the guests, until they were absolutely certain they needed them. So, these were always part of the business plan, because you can't get the number of people that you need to run a Halloween Horror Nights just by saying, "oh, by the way, we're going to add this night in two weeks." You can't do it.

Philip Hernandez: Yeah, which is another takeaway for attractions too. 

Scott Swenson: This was always part of the plan. You don't have to announce every night that you're going to be available, and quite honestly, I think there is something to be said for the fact that, here we are talking about Halloween Horror Nights in the middle of their run. It gets them back to the top of the list on the news media or the social media platforms, because all of a sudden, they're making a new announcement, "hey, more days!" Which guests interpret as, "wow, we have more opportunities to go," or "I didn't want to go because it was just going to be too crowded, but this Monday is going to be great, because it's perfect for us!"

Philip Hernandez: Yeah, it's a really good strategy. I'm also going to add about the Monday element, there's a lot of competition in those last two weeks of October, everybody is in full swing, and there's even competition for Horror Nights, of course. At the inverse, the smaller events are only open those weekends, right? So, if you did want to go to a smaller event, you have to choose it over Universal just because of the timing. So, I think opening up it, like nobody else is open on those days, that's the long and short of it. I think that's a great move to wait to announce them, so you get in the news cycle and then the consumer sees it and they go, "Oh well. Nobody else is open those days. So, that's actually open for me. I can actually go on these days." 

OK, well, our next story here is actually from a listener of the show, Teresa from Dark at Fort Edmonton, from Fort Edmonton Park in Edmonton, Canada. She sent over kind of a little mini case study about their experiments on TikTok. So, they've created a Mr. Dark Video series on TikTok to promote their Halloween event, Dark at Fort Edmonton. She says that one video alone gained 506,000 views in less than 48 hours. So, half a million in less than 48 hours, and it's kind of cresting it at 719,000 views, 900 comments, 5,500 shares, et cetera, et cetera. So, she kind of compares it to some of Disney's latest TikToks, which are averaging only 48,000 per video. So, it's doing really well, basically. She says, also that, "we saw our highest Dark pre-season ticket sale days as a result of the video series," and the entire series is generated over 2500 new followers for their Fort Edmonton page. That's the Fort Edmonton page overall. So, again, everything we talked about, this is going to help them, those followers are going to help for beyond the Halloween season as well, and then the direct correlation between doing that and seeing the ticket sales. 

We don't talk too, too much I think about TikTok yet, or some of these things, but this is a great example of using those types of guest interactives, these fun moments, to capture trends and whatnot. I think that the one thing in the add is you can never really design for a viral video, you know, as much as people try and sell it or say that it's possible. You can't really design viral. You can check all the boxes and you can try, but the best tactic is still to create consistent quality content on a regular basis, and then that improves your chances, but you can't like design for this. I'm glad it happened. It's a great case study of how they see it impacting, but it's like lightning in a bottle for some of these things.

Scott Swenson: I have to say, I am so glad that Dark is doing well. I'm very biased. I was part of the creative team for the first year of Dark at Fort Edmonton Park. Teresa and her entire team are just amazing. They're so excited about the Halloween product and bringing it to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and they're clearly doing a phenomenal job. They're not the only game in town, they do have some competition, but they have some unique assets. Fort Edmonton Park is actually a History Museum, an outdoor History Museum, that replicates different eras in the history of Edmonton, Alberta, and so they've got some unique assets and they're playing them up for all that they're worth. Obviously, I've been to the event, I was there the opening year. Even then, even in the infancy stage, it was a blast. It was so much fun, and people gathered. There's a social element about doing a Halloween event that's in a really, really cold climate that is incredible because all these folks gather around giant fire pits and express and explain how their nights going, what they've done, what they can do, and what they want to do. 

So, there's a great communal quality to it, and I think that Teresa and her team have basically taken this communal feeling and put it out on TikTok. I think that is part of the reason that they've seen such incredible success because it's already innate in their brand, it's innate in what the guest experience has been, in that there is a unique sort of communal vibe. Now it's just taken on a whole new viral world in the TikTok realm. So, I'm so glad that things are going well for them, I'm so excited that they're continuing to grow. 

The thing I've loved about working with that team and watching that team, even after I stopped working with them, because honestly, they used me to kickstart their event, and then they didn't need me, they just took and ran with it, and I love it. But they've continued to test new things. They've continued to expand to new audiences and demographics without ignoring the original demographic for the event. So, very, very clever choices. For any of you who are in the area, go check it out, it's a great event and so much fun, and unique. It is unique because of what they are during the year and what assets they have to play with. So, yeah, check out Dark at Fort Edmonton.

Philip Hernandez: We had Teresa on the show recently at the Haunted Attraction Network as well to go over the new changes their event. So, if you're curious about what they're doing, she also walks through kind of the history of their development. Also, to note that pairs well with this, they've continued to do some of the online events that they created during the pandemic when they couldn't open. So, they've trimmed them down, but they've continued to do some of them. So, I think that all plays into that sense of community that Scott was talking about. They're finding a way to build a community online for a seasonal event, which is not easy to do, but takes consistent work and their team has been consistent. They developed the programs, they've been keeping people engaged. I think that all that is important and if you can do it right, obviously, it can do well. 

Well, so kind of speaking of takeaways, of course, I've been keeping up with our daily Hauntathon series over on the Haunted Attraction Network, and I thought we could talk about some of the takeaways from some of the interviews and the reporting that I've done in some of the in-person events that I have visited. Of course, right now I'm in Detroit because. I'm at Hush Haunted Attraction. I think we talked about this, I forget, but Hush this year debuted 3 new bars in their attraction. So, I'll kind of give the overview of it. Hush Haunted Attraction is a linear indoor experience. You walk in, there's a queue line that's all themed around walking into a New Orleans Square called Hush Falls, and the businesses in the square are the different kind of businesses that are available there at the attraction. So, you walk in and the haunted house is the hotel. So, you go into the Hush Falls hotel, you check-in, and that's kind of your gateway to start your journey through the attraction. So, what they did this year, it's a linear attraction, but they added three bars, three themed bars. One of the bars is in the square and it's called Voodoo Blues, so it sits in the queue line, the New Orleans square area, and provides kind of viewing where people in the bar can view people that are standing in line and whatnot. Then there are two more bars that are embedded into the attraction itself, into the haunt line itself. So, you kind of discover them as you walk, as you go through the haunt. 

Bar #2 is Basecamp, and it's right at the transition point. What happens is you start in the hotel, then you kind of like go into the boiler room, kind of like underground, kind of eject out the back of the hotel in the storyline, and you kind of discover an archaeological camp outside where they've been digging up artifacts, right? So, right at that transition point is where bar two is, and it's called Expedition Basecamp Bar. The way you enter the bar is there's a big artifact crate that says fragile on it, you kind of swing that crate open, and you enter the crate. The bartenders are there, you can get your drink, and then you actually walk into the little base camp, into the tent, and there's a seating area in there that's all themed with the dig site stuff and the archaeologists are there talking to you and whatnot, right? 

Then, you can exit that, and the final bar is in the final section of the haunt, which is kind of mansion themed, like the mansion next door type of theme, and it's the carriage house that sits outside of the mansion, is where the bar is. So, as you're walking up to the mansion, you can hang a left and go into the carriage bar. Each of the bars they've tested a different concept that we've talked about quite extensively on the show, because we've talked about this concept of adding bars, which is kind of the new trend, we talked about the do's and don'ts, what would make it work, what doesn't, blah blah blah. So, bar one, Voodoo Blues, that testing moment is it's outside of the queue lines. People can stay there longer, they can drink more in theory, and because it's looking at the queue line, it's that thing that Scott just said where you can watch people in the queue and then you can get your expedited line. But it happens in a way that's removed so that you're not in the face and disrupting the guests that are in line. You kind of just walk around them after you get your drinks, right? 

Bar two experiments with the concept of having to do something, because you're walking through the base camp, right? You're opening the door, you're experimenting with that kind of thing, and it's in the middle of the attraction. There's much more interesting physical design space in that one, right? Then bar three, the carriage house, there are windows that allow you to look into the graveyard that the guests walk through, so you can see guests walking through the haunt and getting scared, and there's a little air compressor button that you can press there to hit people with air compressors as they're walking through. So, each bar is kind of testing one of the things that we've talked about that would make to make these events successful.

Scott Swenson: Yeah, I love that. Again, this stuff, these ideas, and these concepts are not new, but it's interesting to see them implemented in a haunt or in an experience that it's not, for example, Disney. I mean you, both parks have them I think, or it did at one point, the restaurant that's literally inside of Pirates of the Caribbean, you know?

Philip Hernandez: Blue Bayou just to one side, and there's Cinderella Castle, this concept of dining within the immersive experience has been a thing. Then the bars even, we talked about SeaWorld a few weeks back putting the bars in, I mean this is a thing.

Scott Swenson: Now things like Hush and Halloween Nights in Philly, you know, they're all incorporating this idea, which I think is great. I mean it makes for a full night, it makes for a longer evening, it has more perceived value even though you're actually spending more money in the bar. But you end up thinking, well, you know, I spent my X amount on a ticket, and instead of it being 2 hours or 15-20 minutes and done, it becomes two to four hours because you spend time drinking, having fun, shooting air cannons at people, drinking more, and having more fun. I think it's a brilliant move.

Philip Hernandez: Some data points to finish it off here is that Cody has been seeing about 20% to 30% of the tickets will upgrade to the Bar Passes, and Bar Passes are the things you buy to get you access to them. So, it's different than a token system. So, basically, they wear things that way the attendants know to bring them into the bar, so they don't miss them. So about 20%-30%, which is a big uptick, right? That's a huge velvet rope uptick. 

The only thing that I will say, this is not from the attraction, this is just from me. I will say that for you listening and thinking of putting this kind of stuff in. It's tough because again, the throughput becomes an issue when they're in the middle of an attraction, throughput becomes an issue. So, you either need to compensate with it being a more expensive experience, or you need to find a way to cycle them. But the problem with cycling them is that people need to spend more than 15 minutes in a bar to buy a second drink, right? So, if you want them to buy more drinks, you need a way for them to stay in the space longer, right? And if you don't want them to buy more drinks, then it needs to be priced appropriately so that you're utilizing the space well, right? Because you're going to be cycling them through. The Voodoo thing is an attempt right at making a space that sits outside of the queue to let them kind of stay longer. But that, from my observation, was kind of the problem, was really just the throughput hiccups in terms of getting that right?

Scott Swenson: It may also be an opportunity to explore in the future, with things like virtual queuing inside the bar to re-enter. 

Anyway, we are out of time. I would be remiss if I didn't say, I mentioned that I was at TEA earlier, and I was approached by multiple, multiple people who were listeners. I was thrilled and tickled to be recognized, and we did a story even in this episode from Teresa, who I know is a listener as well. So, guys, thank you so very much. You have no idea how much we appreciate hearing that you enjoy, or get something out of, or just want us to argue more, because I heard that too, about the show. We love your input. We love your feedback. Please keep it coming, and please continue to share what we have to offer with other people in the industry because we do this because we love it, and we do this because we love this industry, and we want to continue to see it grow based on best practices that hopefully will get you to at least think about or talk about amongst your peers. So, until next time, this is Scott and Philip for Green Tagged Theme Park in 30, and we'll see you next week.




Scott SwensonProfile Photo

Scott Swenson

Owner/Creative Director

For over 30 years, Scott Swenson has been a storyteller, bringing stories to life as a writer, director, producer and performer. His work in theme park, consumer events, live theatre and television has given him a broad spectrum of experiences. In 2014, after 21 years with SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, Scott formed Scott Swenson Creative Development LLC. Since then he has been providing impactful experiences for clients around the world. Whether he is installing shows on cruise ships or creating seasonal festivals for theme parks, writing educational presentations for zoos and museums or directing successful fund raisers, Scott is always finding new ways to tell stories that engage and entertain.